Let’s assume for a moment that the reports that came out last Tuesday are true and that Josef Newgarden is headed for Team Penske for 2017 and beyond. It will more than likely be at the expense of Juan Montoya, who had a sub-par season this past year for The Captain.
Again, many will wonder why I even fool with social media – but I check it out so that I can get a quick sampling for what fans are thinking. I always know what I’m thinking. But it’s interesting to see if most people see things as I do, or to see if I’m some lone wolf out on an island.
While many, or even most, were happy for Newgarden getting a ride at Team Penske – there was a very vocal minority that felt Newgarden should be loyal to Ed Carpenter and the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team that eventually morphed into Ed Carpenter Racing. While I am a big believer in loyalty, with all due respect to Sarah Fisher, Wink Hartman and Ed Carpenter – Josef Newgarden would need to have his head examined if he turned down the chance of a lifetime.
This isn’t George Bailey turning down Ol’ Man Potter in order to stay at the Building & Loan. If you don’t get that reference – well, I don’t know what to say.
This is a chance to drive for Team Penske – the best team in the paddock over decades. Roger Penske doesn’t offer rides to just anyone. Those that he does, usually turn the ride into a legacy. Do you think Helio Castroneves would still be at the top of his game, if he was still driving for the likes of Hogan Racing? Paul Tracy had some good years after he left Penske – but how often do you hear him on the telecast refer to his days with Barry Green or Gerry Forsythe? He always refers to his days at Penske when he was a driver.
It’s an interesting thought to consider what a driver’s legacy would be had they not driven for Roger Penske. All three of the Unsers simply added to their own legacies by closing out their careers at Team Penske. But what if Mark Donohue, Rick Mears or Sam Hornish never joined Penske? Would any of them have their face or faces on the Borg-Warner trophy? Maybe. Maybe not. But in fifty years, I don’t ever recall a driver saying they wished they had never signed with Team Penske (OK…Kevin Cogan may be a possible exception).
My point is – when Roger Penske calls, you answer the phone. When he makes you an offer, you take it. Even if all things are equal, you take the offer. Why? Because he can turn a good career into a great one.
Josef Newgarden has performed well with what he has since he joined the series in 2012. Even as a young rookie, he showed flashes of brilliance sprinkled in among some rookie mistakes. Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman were good to him. Consequently, he was very loyal to them. Other teams beckoned, but he stayed with Sarah Fisher’s fledgling team powered by Honda.
When Ed Carpenter along with Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman merged their two teams to form CFH Racing for the 2015 season, Newgarden was part of the deal. For once Newgarden had Chevrolet power. It may or may not be coincidence that Newgarden won his first two career victories with Chevy finally under the cowling.
For 2016, Sarah and Wink had to pull out – leaving Ed to try and fund two cars with the Fuzzy’s sponsorship. I am merely guessing that the team was behind the financial eight-ball all season. I don’t know that to be true, but I’m speculating that’s the case. Regardless, Newgarden won another race and could have been a threat to win the championship had it not been for his crash at Texas. His injuries suffered there had to take its physical toll at some of the other tracks. Still, Newgarden performed well enough to finish fourth in the final championship standings.
His results and his out-of-the-car demeanor did not go unnoticed. To put it simply – Josef Newgarden is Penske material. He is good with sponsors, he is a young, well spoken American who can sure drive a race car. He has paid his dues driving and thriving with the smaller teams, but it is now his time to put it all together. What better place to do it than Team Penske?
Supposedly, Josef Newgarden is under contract with Ed Carpenter until Sep 28. Those connecting the dots are figuring that Penske has made a tentative offer. Newgarden has probably taken that offer to Ed Carpenter in good faith to see if he’ll match it.
Assuming Carpenter matches it and Penske doesn’t counter, what does Josef do? Does he stay with the team he knows and apparently loves? After all, they have grown together since 2012 and know each other very well. If he stays, he can maybe win a couple of hard-fought races per year. He can also contend for the Indianapolis 500 pole and race win. He started second this past year and finished third and led before having to pit, like practically everyone else did. Ed Carpenter’s team can always prepare a great car for the ”500”. It’s also obvious he can contend for the championship again, if everything goes right.
Or does he go with Team Penske – a team with very deep pockets and the ability to hire the best crew members out there? It’s an unknown quantity, except for one thing – they win. A lot.
Roger Penske didn’t win sixteen Indianapolis 500 victories as a car owner by chance. He won it and all of the other races and championships by being the most prepared and the most polished. No one keeps a garage or pit like Roger Penske. Their areas always stand out by being the cleanest and most organized. The professionalism that he exudes in the boardroom carries over to the track. Their top-three sweep of the season championship this year was no fluke either. This is well-oiled machine that is set up to win for years to come.
So does Newgarden sign with Ed Carpenter or Roger Penske? Does he show loyalty or go for the gold? While I admire athletes for their loyalty, at some point they should think about the big picture. That’s why I think this about a five-second decision for Newgarden.
Did he make all those trips from Nashville to New Castle to go karting as a kid and hone his craft just so he could show loyalty? Did he go to Europe to run GP3 just to show loyalty and continue to struggle each year while worrying about a shoestring budget? No offense to Ed Carpenter’s ability to find sponsorship, but each year is a struggle for him and that will probably continue. It’s the nature of the beast.
Newgarden can go to Penske to focus on one thing – racing. He can leave the financial part to someone else, because he knows the financial piece will be taken care of at Team Penske. Not only can he focus on racing, he can focus on winning. That is why he has put in all those years struggling – so he can win.
So those of you who are urging Josef Newgarden to stay and struggle need to think about what they would do in the same situation. It’s always very easy to tell someone what to do when it doesn’t really affect you. Loyalty sounds noble, but it doesn’t buy food or championships. When the career is over, how many drivers look back and say “I’m glad I was noble when that once-in-a-lifetime offer came”? Not many.
When Ol’ Man Potter told George Bailey that his ship had come in, George didn’t jump on board. But Roger Penske isn’t Ol’ Man Potter. Josef Newgarden needs to make this jump.